Throughout life, we end up asking much from God. We ask for healing, success in our efforts, relief from life’s anxious times, more followers on social media, victory against our foes, the list goes on and on. Our requests focus often on the here and now. They are defined so much by cultural expectations and immediate needs that we don’t comprehend what Jesus Christ brings with the kingdom of God.
The reading is a sandwich of two healing stories. A young girl was seriously ill and her father (Jairus – a leader in the synagogue) fell at Jesus’ feet and begged for him to come and heal her. A crowd pressed upon Jesus looking to be witnesses of Jesus’ healing powers. Along the way, healing flowed from him to a woman having touched his cloak among all the others.
The woman had been left destitute in her efforts to be healed from the hemorrhages for which she had suffered the past twelve years. She simply wanted to be healed so she could function normally in life. Jesus gave her more. The hemorrhages left her unclean to stand before God and even be touched by others. Yes, she was healed when she touched the edge of his clothing. She was unnamed but Jesus called her “daughter.” She had lived a tough life but Jesus gave to her the blessing of peace.
While this was going on, Jairus was still begging for Jesus to heal his daughter. Then word arrived that Jairus’ daughter had died and so there was no reason for Jesus to come. Jesus said to Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” The mourning had begun when they arrived and Jesus commented that she was only sleeping. The mourners laughed at him. Then Jesus took her hand and said, “Little girl, get up!” She got up from her death bed to the obvious amazement of the mourners.
Both stories tell of Jesus giving more than what was being asked of him. An unnamed woman was given a new title and restored not just to normal life but to stand before God as a daughter. Jairus was privileged to witness with his own daughter more than a healing. He was allowed to see the power of God extending beyond the limitations of this life.
The reading ends with Jesus ordering that what had just happened should not be told. This seems ridiculous. Why wouldn’t Jesus want the news of his abilities to be known? Raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead would be great advertising. This is the point. He was more than a traveling healer. He came to give us more – the kingdom of God.
Jesus had been busy. He had healed a man with a withered hand. A good deed. Unfortunately, Jesus did this on the Sabbath and in the synagogue. The synagogue was a place for worship and apparently not to heal broken bodies. The Sabbath was a time for rest and apparently not to heal broken bodies. The nice folk didn’t approve of Jesus upending their neatly constructed lives. The Pharisees met with supporters of Herod to destroy Jesus.
Actually, Jesus had been doing a lot of healing in that region. People with withered hands and diseases approved as they smothered around him hoping to at least touch him. Demons fell at his feet as he cast them out (Jesus sternly ordered them to not reveal his identity) . Yes, Jesus had been busy showing that the reign of God was definitely with him. He sent out the disciples to spread that good news with the power to cast out the demons as well.
Jesus returned to his home town and the crowds continued to gather. His family tried to restrain him because folks were saying that he was out of his mind. You know, crazy. Scribes came down from Jerusalem and diagnosed him as being possessed by Beelzebul because he was casting out demons. Now none of those people would be against a man with a withered hand being healed. They just didn’t want the healing to interfere with worship observances. None of the scribes would be against casting out demons. The problem with Jesus casting out demons was that his actions pointed out the evil that lived among them. Who wants to face that reality? Anyone challenging our convenient worship ways…anyone naming the evil that has found a home in our neatly manicured lives is going to get push back. Big time.
Jesus responded to the absurdity of the scribes’ accusations. Any kingdom that is divided will not last. Satan casting out Satan is a complete contradiction. No. Someone more powerful than Satan is now present and Satan’s kingdom is being routed. Jesus is that someone. Whoever says that Jesus’ actions were in league with the devil are uttering a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that simply can’t be forgiven.
The reading ends with Jesus’ family still calling out to him, trying to control his craziness. He pointed out to those around him saying that they who do the will of God are his family. If doing the things Jesus did causes us to be called “out of our minds,” then we should all be so crazy.
Summer finally seems to have arrived. Beaches are beginning to open up. Lawns are needing to be mowed. Fans are still waiting for the “crack” of the bat hitting a baseball. Many are yearning for ‘normal’ to return but that normal is not present. “I can’t breathe,” are words refusing to be silent. Will the next wave of Covid-19 be a ripple or tsunami? The presidential campaign is turning into a full out sprint. The worry is how will the connective fibres holding us together as a country withstand the efforts to tear us apart into divisive camps.
Jesus had gone around the area preaching the good news of the kingdom as well as healing the sick. The crowds were large with no one to unite and bring healing to them. He had compassion for them. So the disciples were sent out to continue what Jesus had been doing. The more workers meant more could be done. Jesus told them to do this freely, without payment. He also told them to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. The kingdom of heaven and its reign comes to us freely without a cost. Make no mistake, the cross was costly for Christ but the gift of his kingdom is free. The disciples needed to model this and to be aware of the push back they would face. There were those, like wolves, who profited and enjoyed having power over the sheep (people). These wolves will prosecute and persecute anyone getting in the way of their privileged position. The disciples needed to know this and to also understand that they’ll have the Holy Spirit’s support with them.
The summer season has arrived and the desire for many is to get back to what is considered to be normal. However the political division, racial issues and progression of Covid-19 infections are forcing us to face a world that is far from that normal. Into this world, Jesus is sending us (the church). The message is that there is another way for the world to exist and it comes freely, the kingdom of heaven which comes to us through Christ. This other way is where the sick are cared for and our neighbour’s health is important for us to support and keep. This other way brings healing to injuries formed by racial and political divisions. This other way calls out with honesty the evil that sits at the doorway of our lives, naming it for what is done. Will this cause a push back? Of course. However, don’t forget that the Spirit is present and will give the support needed. A lot of work needs to be done. The more announcing the kingdom of heaven that comes near to us in Christ, the more that good news gets spread.
A week has now passed since we celebrated Easter behind the closed doors in fear of Covid-19. Easter was different this year. It was more introspective. Without the usual activities surrounding the day and filled churches, we were left to wonder what does the resurrection say to us behind the closed doors? If we are willing to allow the Spirit to speak in our wondering, we just might discover a greater depth to what we believe and a hope that goes far beyond hurrying to open up the economy and get life back to normal.
On that first day of the resurrection, the Gospel of John tells of the disciples hiding in fear behind closed doors. They had good reason with fear of Roman soldiers wandering in the streets making sure peace was being kept along with the fear of what will the future hold with Jesus’ crucifixion. However, earlier in the day Mary Magdalene had told them that she had seen the Lord and passed on the risen Jesus’ words to them. Perhaps their greatest fear was facing Jesus whom they had abandoned and denied. Then he appeared, wounds and all. Their fear was suddenly changed to celebration with Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!” The Lord who beat death and was ushering in the reign of God with the start of a new creation appeared to them, not for revenge or to judge but to forgive. The disciples were sent out by Jesus with the Spirit and a message of forgiveness.
On that first day, Thomas was missing. Even though he got the news, he wouldn’t believe until he had proof – he wanted to physically inspect the wounds for himself. A week later he was present when Jesus appeared and this time Jesus gave Thomas the invitation to go ahead and even stick his fingers in the wounds. Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” I think that we would all like the opportunity for our doubts and fears to be replaced by physical proof and to have God stand before us and announce “Peace.” What we do have in these days is the witness of others, the belief of parents and friends. They tell us that God has not abandoned us and this world but has taken on its wounds and death giving forgiveness and life instead. They show us that the statement “My Lord and my God” is more than a formula to be recited but an intense hope of healing as a new creation is brought into being.
Now we still huddle behind doors for fear of the pandemic. Now our hopes may be on returning to normal and reopening the economy. Now we worry about toilet paper shortages, masks and social distancing. What Easter tells us is that God has shown up in this world and taken on our sickness to bring forgiveness and life instead. What Easter instills in us is a hope of a new creation healed in Jesus Christ risen.
As Jesus said, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The past week has been a wild ride with the Covid-19 leading the way. Millions of people are in a lock down type situation. Traveling outside of the country is restricted. Toilet paper, guns and ammunition are selling out (interesting how these are the items we consider the most critical). Retired, I haven’t had the guts to look at my investments and savings. Political leadership has ranged from bold to fault finding, denial and the usual lies. A few senators have shown an uncanny ability to time the market sell off. Depending upon your ideology, the virus is a great threat or nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of things. Conspiracy theories are making unsubstantiated claims about the cause of the pandemic. Stores and business are closing down to reduce spread of the virus while people are partying on the beaches in Florida (only to increase the spread of the virus when they return home). So the question for this morning is about blindness and having the sight to recognize the truth and ultimately perceive what God is asking and calling the church to be in these times.
The Gospel reading from John is heavily into the contradictions of light and darkness, blindness and sight. Jesus gave sight to a man blind from birth. The disciples wanted to know the cause of the blindness; what sin had he or his parents committed before his birth. The focus quickly shifted to Jesus and his identity since only God could do this kind of miracle. The Pharisees got involved because Jesus did this on the Sabbath which made him a sinner. The healed man was questioned as well as his parents. Insults were hurled and accusations of being a sinner were made. The healed man was thrown out of the synagogue and lectured over who he called a sinner. Jesus came to the man and revealed his identity as ‘Son of Man’ and the man worshiped him. Pharisees questioned Jesus of their blindness. He responded, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,’ your sin remains.
So where does the church and the Gospel begin to fit in all of this? In the reading, Jesus was revealed as a source of healing as well as the presence of God in the world. He also drew a line between light and darkness, blindness and sight. What catches my attention was how the people responded. Rather than celebrate with the man what Jesus had done for him, they protected power structures and searched for a sin to label and discredit Jesus.
The church is a place where light shines on human darkness. In the light, truth needs to be held up against the fault finding, disinformation and false conspiracies. Truth needs to stand against ideology and politics. Covid-19 is a virus that we need to work together as a nation and world to stop in order to reduce the number of people who will die from it. Truth is what will allow this to happen.
The church is a place that keeps its sight on Christ who brings healing. Healing needs to be brought to our divisions. The focus of healing needs to be brought not just for the well connected but to the weak and powerless. The biggest sin in the reading was refusing to see Jesus at work. Today the challenge is to understand that we are called to be different from the world so healing may be allowed to happen and not stifled.
Last week was a wild one. Next week will be the same. So let the light of truth be seen. Keep the focus on Jesus bringing healing into this world.
Exposure is the topic for this week. I’m not writing about being exposed to Covid-19 and precautions. I am writing about how it has exposed our humanity and fear. Covid-19 has reminded us once again of our mortality and our lack of invincibility. High school sports are cancelled. College sports are cancelled. Professional sports are cancelled. Church services are cancelled. Store shelves are empty. Scammers are selling their secret cure. Sales of Corona beer are down as people fear getting the virus from drinking it. Covid-19 has more than exposed us to a virus. It has also exposed our humanity and fear.
Today’s reading has Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at the community well and much was exposed about humanity in that day. Namely, biases and fear and insecurity. A God fearing Jew would avoid Samaritan land or find the fastest way through it. They would not have held a conversation with a Samaritan nor drank water from the same cup. A man would not have had a conversation with a woman in public. What Jesus was doing would have raised the anxiety levels of the righteous in those days. What he was doing also exposed our bias and fear.
There is more. Jesus asked her to get her husband but she had no husband. Then Jesus exposed her as having had five husbands. She wasn’t unlucky in love. Jesus exposed the insecurity of a woman in a society where wives were easily divorced (discarded) but needed men for protection.
While much was exposed, Jesus offered water but not water that came from the community well. He offered water that bubbled up like a fountain rising up to eternal life. He was the source of that water. Eternal life is a quality and way of life lived out under Christ as Lord in the reign of God. Jesus brought eternal life to a woman society had built walls around and raised up her dignity in a cast aside culture. She went off to town to tell others and the Samaritan town believed and welcomed Jesus to stay. They saw in him the Savior of the world.
The disciples showed up and were aghast that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman. Jesus had come to do the work of bringing eternal life to this world and many others were needed both Jew and Samaritan to be a part of this work. The eternal life that Jesus brings is a life where biases and fears of others are removed and those cast aside are raised up to dignity as children of God. For this to happen, a lot of workers are needed. The disciples needed to understand this.
Covid-19 is a reality that has brought much of the world to a stop. It needs to be taken seriously. The prayer is for all infected to quickly recover and know again the goodness of health. At the same time, our humanity has been exposed with all its fears and insecurities. This needs healing as well. The invitation is to join in as one of the workers bringing the water that bubbles over to eternal life. Jesus is that water.
Something going on in this reading doesn’t make sense…or does it? A man is possessed by a ‘Legion’ of demons. He is chained, naked and living in the tombs of a cemetery. When Jesus casts out the demons, the man is clothed and in his right mind. The Legion of demons possess a nearby herd of pigs who run off a steep bank to drown in the water below. The local folk are angry and want Jesus to leave. Why? Why would they be so anti-healing?
Were the people angry about the financial losses from the drowned pigs? Nope. They didn’t even ask Jesus for some form of repayment.
Why couldn’t they celebrate the man’s good fortune of no longer being chained and naked? Why couldn’t they be happy for the man now rid of the demons and in his right mind? Why the anger? Jesus took away their scapegoat. As long as they could use the man as the focus of the unclean for their community, life in denial was good. Jesus took that focus away and now they would be like the pigs running head long to their own destruction.
Think about all the people we call evil. Think of all the people we put as the focus of what is unclean. The list is endless: immigrants, liberals, conservatives, Iran, the poor, the rich, etc. When one is removed from the list, another is simply plugged in. Unfortunately we also keep Christ at a distance and stay in the old ways that get in the way of healing.
Christ is our healing. He is the healing of the nations. His power is above the ‘Legion’ which was what a Roman 6000 unit of soldiers was called. He casts out the demonic that keeps us all in chains. He brings sanity to our culture.
So when it comes to Jesus what is our response? Will it be anger? Will it be courage to seek his healing? Will it be a continuation of seeing our uncleanness focused upon another and another and another? Will it be healing for our community, nation and world leaving us clothed and in our right minds as children of God?